Everyone is loving nut butter right now *understatement*. Splashed all over social media, we’re obsessed. And one particular brand, Pip & Nut, is standing head and shoulders above the rest. Want to know their secret? So did we.
So we met Pippa Murray, the brain behind the brand, to find out how she started her company. How exactly has she become SO successful? From creating a concept to Crowdfunding, she talked us through all the steps – the ups and the downs! If you’re thinking of starting a business you NEED to read this.
1. You just celebrated your 1st birthday – how was Pip & Nut born?
It actually took me about 18 months to set up the company from the idea to now. I was working at the time as a producer at the Science Museum and I had no Fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) experience: it was more, this is a product I love, and I want to do something fun with it. Peanut butter is great but I felt you could reinvent it for a younger audience, and the brand came from there. Selfridges were our first major stockist.
2. Why nut butter?
I used to eat peanut butter all the time and I hated that they put palm oil and loads of sugar in there. As someone who was very health conscious I didn’t like it. But I also love that fundamentally it’s a delicious product and because of that we’ve been able to grow quickly: you don’t feel like you’re sacrificing anything by being healthier. It was about making a better product than what was on the shelf and bringing an innovative brand into the market that experimented with flavours and would grow the nut butter category as a whole.
Palm oil is really high in saturated fat and is one of the leading causes of deforestation in the world. One of the labels on our products says ‘absolutely no palm oil’; not all consumers understand why it’s there, but awareness is increasing all the time.
3. What was your relationship with food before that? You obviously felt confident that you could create a product.
I think it was more my interest in brands. There are those classic brands like Innocent that execute things beautifully and it was the combination of beautiful food design in brands like that on shelves at the time; I felt inspired, I wanted to do that. Coupled with the appeal of having more ownership with my work- although, granted, I never thought I’d be running my own business! Food is definitely where our brand sits in the ‘flavour first’ and functional benefits like high protein coming second. It should be “This tastes amazing!” followed by “It’s also good for you!”
4. One of the unique things we love about your brand is the single-serving squeeze packs, whose idea was it to do these sachets?
I used to do a lot of marathons and would always be eating peanut butter as a fuel rather than energy gels – which come in the single serve squeeze packaging – which I hated with a passion. It’s a huge format in America. I had the idea that we could bring it to the UK to see if it works. I knew it’d be a harder sell because people over here don’t know whether it’s alright just to eat nut butter like that – that you can just squeeze it into your mouth. It’s fun because it’s new. We always get asked what’s different about our products and that’s one of them, the packaging. It’s about getting it into as many people’s hands.
5. How did you start experimenting?
I literally just used the blender in my kitchen – there were so many dodgy batches to start with! When you’re talking about ‘new product development’ it is literally just a blender and some scales. So I honed the recipes and then I went to Maltby Street Market and started selling it there for 3 months, which was great for immediate feedback from people coming by and tasting the products. Because I didn’t come from a food background I needed something to prove to myself that there was an appetite for the line before jumping in and ordering 20,000 units and realising that people didn’t like it in the first place.
I got a sense of the market and made a little bit of money. I then needed to figure out how to scale it up into factories and make it so you can sell it to supermarkets. That three month trial was important for confidence and to tweak the product.
6. Is it fair to say you learnt as you went along rather than following a plan?
It’s a really weird point when you realise that you know what you’re talking about. There’s something about being naive to how hard it is to launch a product for Tesco and Sainsbury’s – maybe if I knew how hard it would be, I might not have done it? Having friends in the industry really helped and encouraged me too.
7. Why did you choose crowdfunding?
I spent ages pitching to investors, sometimes 300 people at a time; since I was pre-revenue it was really hard to get one or two investors because I was untried and untested as a person. To get one person to put in £120K was clearly going to be quite difficult, but I did find that a few people were putting in £10K or £20K. It was that point that my runway to make it work was getting shorter and shorter and I had to think about getting another job if I didn’t get some money into the business account. The pressure was real. I went on to Crowdcube which is an equity crowdfunding site where you have 60 days to raise your target – ours was £100K. I’d lined up £70K in advance and we raised the rest of the money in 9 days! It was a massive validation, we got the money super-quick and we could just press go on production. Some of the investors we had on board from the beginning have been super helpful with funding us to get in to Sainsburys, for example. Crowdfunding is turning the tables on businesses with owners being able to dictate where their own money goes.
8. You won the 2014 Crowdcube entrepreneur of the year award as well!
I had no money to start the brand, so in order to be able to quit my job I entered a competition on Escape The City to live in a shed rent free for 3 months – and I won! At the end of the summer I went on Crowdcube (to move out of the shed!) and they liked the story.
9. Are there any downsides to crowdfunding?
The only downside is that if you raise more money afterwards it gets complicated because there are investors. I think it’ll be interesting to see, if we start turning over £10 million a year and become a business that could potentially be sold, how many of those investors will become more vocal? Right now I feel like I fully own my business but who knows how much pressure I’ll get from them when they think they might get a big return. That’s the downside when you have 80 investors instead of 2.
10. Your brand identity is strong: you worked with a branding agent from a surprisingly early stage in the product development didn’t you?
I personally believe that because the competition in the supermarket is so tough, if your branding isn’t good, shoppers won’t respond to you. Also, because we were positioned as a brand-led product we needed that emotional connection with the consumer. I believe that if you do your branding once and really well you won’t have to do it again and it’ll save you money in the long run. If you start on an amazing foundation, when you launch you can just run and be confident with your product – it’s all the other stuff you worry about.
11. How does your relationship work with a branding agency?
Essentially you give them a brief on the consumer you want to reach and the brand you want to create, then they’ll create a brand strategy document for you which is a condensed synopsis of what you have talked about. This document goes to the designers who will give you a few options and then you pick what’s closest to your vision. It’s a constant ongoing operation as a brand grows and more products are added, you start doing different events etc
12. What would be three tips you would give to someone who would want to ‘do a you’?
- Get a good mentor. If you’re a sole founder it’s good to have people to ask for advice because you won’t know everything
- Make sure that your product, not just your brand, is amazing. Especially if it’s a food product; there’s no point spending £50K on developing a brand if your product tastes rubbish and you can’t make it properly in a commercially viable way. Make it taste better than what’s on the shelf because that’s how to get consumers to re-purchase your product.
- You’d be surprised what you can do on a shoestring. Even though we launched on £120K, that’s depressingly ‘on a shoestring’ for a food brand. It is amazing what you can do yourself by learning. I manage our supply chain even though I know nothing about operations. By doing and learning every aspect of your business you’ll ultimately have more control. Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know, just remember to learn it.